Stuxnet may have destroyed 1,000 Iranian nuke fuel centrifuges a year ago

Written by: Anita Nair
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Tehran, Jan 4 (ANI): The Stuxnet cyber weapon might have destroyed around 1,000 Iranian nuclear-fuel centrifuges, over one-tenth of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant's capacity, in late 2009 and early 2010, according to a recent report by a nuclear arms-control watchdog group.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, everything appeared to be going smoothly for the Iranian program till November 16, 2009, the date of a quarterly report by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. At that point, there had been a "steady increase in the number of centrifuges" at Iran's Natanz plant, reaching a peak of 8,692 installed centrifuges.

The paper quoted an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), released December 23 last year, as saying that by February 18, 2010, the quarterly reports issued by IAEA inspectors began registering problems there. By then, Iran had pulled the plug on about 1,000 centrifuges it had previously installed, ISIS concluded.

Although Iran's centrifuges are known to break and to be replaced frequently, the pace of breakage "exceeded expectations and occurred during an extended period of relatively poor centrifuge performance," ISIS found.

"The crashing of such a large number of centrifuges over a relatively short period of time could have resulted from an infection of the Stuxnet malware," the report added.

The report shares the same opinion as previous studies by Symantec, the big computer antivirus firm, and German researcher Ralph Langner that Stuxnet targeted industrial control systems with certain specific brands of frequency converters - a piece of equipment that governs centrifuge motors and controls a centrifuge's rotational speed.

When the malware found those converters on an industrial control system, Stuxnet subverted the original speed requirements, ordering the converters to drastically increase - and then drastically reduce - the speed of the centrifuges in a subtle way intended to wreck the equipment or to greatly impair output from those centrifuges, the report said.

Iran replaced the malfunctioning centrifuges rapidly, but even so, it had fewer installed centrifuges in November 2010 than it did a year earlier. Still, the number of centrifuges in actual operation increased to about 4,800, from just under 4,000, according to the November 10 report by IAEA inspectors.

By mid-November, Iran had temporarily halted enrichment due to "widespread fluctuations in centrifuge operations," the ISIS report said.

Iranian officials did not give any explanation for the shutdown.

Many cybersecurity experts suggest the overall efficiency of the Iranian program remains compromised by Stuxnet. (ANI)

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